Keeping the Actor's Flame Alive
Third year at drama school is a rollercoaster in the fullest sense: alternately invigorating and overwhelming.
While it may seem a rather specific experience, third year is, at its core, a very accurate microcosm of the wider world one enters upon graduation. So, irrespective of whether we may be approaching this final year of intense actor training or long past it (or, for that matter, have no intention of encountering it at all), the following will hopefully serve as a reminder of what we already know to be important and true.
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Bursting the bubble
The most significant shift in third year is that we're introduced to this thing called "the industry". Which can be quite jarring after finally finding some sense of ownership of this ever-challenging yet tightly insulated bubble. Suddenly, unfamiliar but ostensibly very important people, concepts and events start entering this delicate sphere: agents, casting directors, self-tapes, showreels, and showcase, to name a few.
And yes, these are important people and events, absolutely, but we must remember to balance honouring our shiny new friends with continuing to honour our old. Most crucially, our irreplaceable actor flame.
The Actor's Flame
Each of us creative beings has a compelling reason for why we do what we do (i.e. our actor flame). We might relate to this as a very conscious, rationalised mission statement, or as a more intangible and mysterious intuition. Either way, when we keep this flame alive and aligned, we find our experience is more enjoyable and purpose-driven — things seem to fall into place as and when they should.
Yet, despite third year being such a critical time to practice our flame attendance (goodness knows we'll need this skillset the instant we graduate), several factors will test our commitment to doing so.
The first is simply time and energy. We may feel as though we were already in short supply in the first two years, but third year takes these demands to a whole new level. As a result, we may forget or de-prioritise restorative pauses or activities.
The second is the fact that our teachers and peers are less likely to be fanning our flames in this final year. Our teachers want us to learn to walk without holding their hands, and our peers are — understandably — preoccupied with their own third year juggling act.
And finally is our exposure to the whims of ol' Lady Luck. As professional opportunities start to enter the fray in third year, we'll inevitably find some of our peers appear to hold the lion's share of fortune, while others struggle to even get a look in. In reality, both scenarios provide their own challenges. It can be demotivating to watch the same handful of individuals have seemingly endless amounts of kindling passed their way, while we feel in danger of being completely doused out. On the other hand, we may find ourselves in the small pool of those being generously stoked (which sounds amazing from the outside) but quickly become unable to control the raging fire we now find ourselves having to manage.
All the above can lead to our flame dimming — potentially losing sight of the original spark altogether — and consequentially, leave us with little to navigate by.
The solution is to take responsibility. "Take responsibility of your own happiness", said Roy T. Bennett, "never put it in other people's hands". The same is true for our actor flame.
The Actor's Fire Emergency Kit
Raj Raghunathan, Professor of Marketing at The University of Texas has said: "A person who has taken personal responsibility recognizes an all-important truth about happiness: your happiness depends much more on your attitude than it does on objective, external circumstances".
There's something tremendously empowering about taking responsibility. Not because we instantly find ourselves with fewer obstacles or less painful ones, but because we can say, "we've got this". In reference to our actor's flame, our "we've got this" comes in the form of our individual Fire Emergency Kit. Yes, we're milking this metaphor, however, this emergency kit feeds the metaphorical flame, rather than starves it.
Our individual Fire Emergency Kit is a simple list of five or so activities guaranteed to reignite our actor spark. We each know what these things are for us, so it shouldn't take long to list five. Maybe it's whipping out our Entry Pass for a ticket to a show at the National. Maybe it's binging a series we've revisited at least seven times because the acting or writing is superb. What our kit comprises is irrelevant. The game plan is the win.
In the "real world", we'll have similar dry spells. If we're in this for the long run, it's almost inevitable. But we may also have seasons where an abundance of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are suddenly showered upon us. The external world will continue to dance its wild dance with us, but don't be fooled — it will always be leading. However, our inimitable actor flame remains constant, and its well-being is 100% ours to own.
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference", goes the Serenity Prayer. Third year is a great time to practice this.
Our experiences of third year may be unique, but if we're able to maintain a strong and steady connection to our actor flame, to our why, we'll be well placed for graduation and beyond.
And if we've already graduated, or are otherwise a seasoned pro, perhaps take a moment to check-in regardless. It will never be a disservice to nourish our actor spark.
Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.
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